Book Review: Law Dissertations: A Step-by-Step Guide

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

Law Dissertations: A Step-by-Step Guide. By Laura Lammasniemi. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2022. x, 190 p. Includes illustrations, bibliographic references, and index. ISBN 978-0-36764-230-3 (hardcover) US$160.00; ISBN 978-0-36756-877-1 (softcover) US$45.95; ISBN 978-1-00312-355-2 (eBook) US$41.35.

Reviewed by Leanne Notenboom
Law Librarian
Toronto Metropolitan University

Writing a dissertation or major research paper is a daunting task for many students. Laura Lammasniemi’s Law Dissertations: A Step-by-Step Guide, now in its second edition, aims to ease some of the anxiety by providing an easy-to-read, practical handbook covering each step of the process from start to finish. While there are several books that provide advice on dissertation writing, legal research, or legal writing, this book is one of only a few that focus specifically on law dissertations and their unique features and considerations.

The book breaks down the dissertation writing process into manageable steps organized into eight different stages, from finding a topic and developing a research proposal to submitting the final product. Chapters are grouped by stage, and there is a flowchart of the eight stages at the top of each chapter to remind the reader where they are in the process. Additional finding tools include a detailed table of contents, index, and bibliography.

At only 184 pages, this text is a quick read. Students could read the book prior to beginning their dissertation to gain an overview of the entire process and prepare for the time and effort required for each stage. While every chapter is short and digestible, some are more detailed than others. For example, the chapters on developing a research question and proposal are substantial, whereas the chapters on online resources and legal research provide only a brief overview. This is presumably because several other manuals are already devoted to these topics, some of which are referenced in the text.

Each chapter includes practice exercises and tasks designed to help the reader work through each of the stages, develop their ideas, and practice their skills. The book also contains useful precedents, including a sample project plan and research log. There are many practical tips throughout the book, such as creating a realistic work schedule and managing the supervisory relationship.

One of the more interesting chapters is the one on conducting empirical research. Lammasniemi notes that empirical research is not common in legal dissertations, given the time and effort required to plan and execute it. She lists many factors to consider before proceeding with empirical research, including whether it is realistically possible in the available time, whether there is existing data that could be used instead, or whether ethics approval is required.

Although this text is written with a U.K. audience in mind, the concepts are recognizable and adaptable for Canadian students. The sample research topics are similar to Canadian legal issues, and the example cases and legislation could easily be substituted with Canadian law. The online databases and legal research resources mentioned are also ones Canadian researchers use.

Law Dissertations: A Step-by-Step Guide would make a good addition to any academic law library. While it is most useful for graduate students tackling a dissertation, much of the content is also relevant for undergraduate students and academic law librarians. The advice on finding an original and interesting topic, reviewing the literature, and structuring and writing the dissertation is applicable to anyone writing a paper in law. Additionally, the sections on planning a research project and navigating the supervisory relationship would be helpful for summer research assistants. Finally, some of the legal research and writing exercises might be of interest to academic law librarians involved in teaching legal research and writing.

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